SAN FERNANDO — Ten-year-old Javier Garcia, undoubtedly early in his career as a mariachi, confessed a twinge of stage fright Sunday.
"I'm a little nervous," said Garcia, a trumpet player in Vaughn Next Century Learning Center's Mariachi Futuro band. "There's a lot of people here."
But the 1,400-strong crowd was more than receptive, as tearful moms stomped their feet in time with the music and video-camera-wielding dads jostled for position in the back of the gym at San Fernando High School, host of the third annual "La Voz del Mariachi" concert.
"They made me cry," Emilia Ortiz said of her 10-year-old son Gabriel's performance with Mariachi Futuro.
Ortiz's husband is also a musician, and now father and son are bonded by the music, she said. "It helps keep our family together. It's like Little League."
Schoolchildren played their parents' heartstrings like so many mariachi guitars. Sunday's show spotlighted nine bands made up of more than 100 young performers eager to show off their charro jackets, sombreros and top-of-the-line guitars and violins.
For some players, the music served not only as a way to carry on the tradition of Mexico City's famed Plaza Garibaldi, where mariachis take to the streets to perform together at dusk, but as a reminder of their own roots.
Said 15-year-old Rigoberto Tolentino, a trumpet player in Mariachi Sol Azteca who lived in Mexico as a young boy: "The music helps give me memories of when I used to live there."
Organizers said whatever proceeds come from the concert will be redistributed to the youth bands to pay for travel expenses, instruments and costumes. The amount raised was unavailable Sunday night.
Maria Reza, former principal of San Fernando Middle School and one of the event's organizers, described the concert in modest terms, saying, "The point of all this is really the community involvement, and the kids."
But for Omar Perez, 20, an original member of Los Halcones, a public-school-sponsored mariachi band formed in 1989, it felt more like the Grammy Awards.
"This is where you can show your stuff and where all your hard work pays off," said Perez, whose bandmates now play weddings, parties and other small gigs. "I'm getting chills just watching."
But while he shared the schoolchildren's jitters, he allowed himself a moment of pride when he reflected on the road he had taken to mariachi mastery.
With only rudimentary understanding of music and Spanish, Perez and 16 others formed Los Halcones under the direction of the music teacher at San Fernando Middle School nine years ago.
And while parents were content to see their children perform, practiced mariachis like Perez hope such concerts raise the local profile of a centuries-old art form.
"The Valley's a forgotten part of the mariachi world," he said. "We're proud of it, but there's a lot of unrecognized work."